Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune (right) welcoming his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fattah Al Sisi in Algiers on November 1, 2022 ahead of the Arab summit meeting hosted by Algeria. Image Credit: AFP

CAIRO: Arab leaders gathered in the Algerian capital on Tuesday for their first summit since a string of normalisation deals with Israel.

Since the last Arab League summit in 2019, several members of the 22-member bloc have normalised ties with the Jewish state.

The summit, postponed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic, coincides with elections in Israel that could see hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu return to power with his far-right allies.

The 22-member Arab League last held its summit in 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In the years since, new challenges have drastically reshaped the region’s agenda and the fallout of the war in Ukraine.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra receives United Nations Secretary General António Guterres as he arrives to participate in the Arab Summit as a guest of honour, in Algiers. Image Credit: AP

All those issues are expected to take centre stage during Algeria’s debut hosting of the summit.

The event provides an opportunity for Africa’s largest country — by territory — to showcase its leadership in the Arab world. Algeria is a major oil and gas producer and is perceived by European nations as a key supplier amid the global energy crisis.

Chief among the summit’s discussion points will likely be the food and energy crises aggravated by the conflict in eastern Europe. The crisis has had devastating consequences for Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, among other Arab countries, struggling to import enough wheat and fuel to satisfy their population.

Worst drought

Also, the past month has seen the worst drought in several decades ravage swaths of Somalia, one of the Arab League’s newer members, bringing some areas of the country to the brink of famine.

Russia’s reinforcement of its blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Sunday threatens to further escalate the crisis, with many Arab countries near solely dependent on eastern European wheat exports.

Tebboune during his meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied in Algiers. Image Credit: Reuters

To the annoyance of Ukraine and its Western backers, the war has become a point of unity among Arab League members, with nearly all adopting a stance of neutrality. Experts say this is likely to continue.

“Political and economic involvement in this conflict would be costly for Arab countries,’’ said Hasni Abidi, a political scientist who teaches at Switzerland’s Global Studies Institute.

“That’s why a new non-alignment (agreement) could be a realistic approach.’’

Tebboune with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Image Credit: AFP

Arab leaders will also be closely monitoring the results of Israel’s parliamentary election, which coincides with the summit. The election comes at a time of heightened tensions in the West Bank, where the Israeli military conducts nightly arrest raids in searches for Palestinian militants. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in recent months, including armed gunmen, stone-throwing teenagers and people uninvolved in violence.

The meeting also comes as tensions mount between Algeria and Morocco, with Algiers having severed diplomatic ties with its North African neighbour last year. The persisting feud between the two countries stems from a dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco in 1975. Sahrawis from the Polisario Front are backed by Algeria and have sought independence for the region for decades.

In preparation for the summit, Algerian authorities spent millions of dollars to embellish the city, repainting its notorious white facades and deploying the flags of the 22 members of the Arab League near the city’s Great Mosque. The capital has been placed under high security for several days.